Posted on February 18, 2015
I’m the member of so many different subgroups now, that they are almost too numerous to mention. There is the wider group – people who have, or have had, cancer. Then there are the bowel cancer people, with special mention given to my friends with liver spread. Then, there are my friends, and indeed, my people – the ostomates.
An ostomate, basically, is a person whose bowel has been rendered so useless, painful, or dangerous by things like bowel cancer, crohns disease, ulcerative colitis etc, that a lot of your digestive tract is removed, and you are given, either temporarily (in my case it can be reversed) or permanently, a new arsehole. Sadly, this resides on your stomach, so it does take a little getting used to. I know some people find them very hard to cope with, but i pretty much took it in my stride, i decided that it wasn’t going to restrict my life. Most people name theirs, but my friend Jo, who had her new friend fitted before me TOTALLY stole my favourite name for something which is a bag of hot air, and basically full of shit, and called hers Tony. Yep, that Tony. Best name for a colostomy bag EVER. All yours Jo babes. Mine has affectionately been known as the “chip packet”.
I’ve always been pretty upfront about the very unpretty things that come with having “arse cancer”. I’ve written about it on my own blog, I have co-written a piece about it with a friend, I’ve spoken at length to others facing the trauma of becoming an ostomate, and I have done all this with no embarrassment at all. So, I was pretty certain that I was going to be ok if the time ever came that the chip packet “misbehaved” in public. I wasn’t worried, I was going to OWN that shit (pardon the pun), turn it into a joke, even if I was the butt of it (oh, somebody stop me!) Plus, I wasn’t worried at all, it’s always been a very well behaved chip packet, and there is no way anyone would know I had it.
Picture this. I’m in class at TAFE with about 20 other people, and the teacher is talking about something very interesting, and very serious, considering it is a case management class, and we are talking about some troubled souls. Everything is quiet, even the teachers voice is quiet, so quieeeettt. And then it happens.
The sound of a trumpet, and indeed, a whole fucking trumpet section of an orchestra. The entire class turned their heads in my direction. And there it was. The elephant was not only in the room, but it had let one go in spectacular fashion.
What I thought:
1. I wish I was dead
2. The only way to ever get over this is to be dead
3. If only I’d never been born.
What I did not do:
1. Own that shit
2. Turn it all into a joke even if I was the butt of it
What I actually did:
1. Laugh hysterically and scream out OH MY GOD at the top of my voice, making sure I had the attention of the whole class.
2. Turn a shade of beetroot purple and remain that way for the rest of the afternoon.
3. Continue referring to said incident all afternoon, long after everyone else had forgotten it.
To make matters worse, it became clear that the teacher was probably the only person in the world who hadn’t heard it. While I was giggling like a 5 year old, and basically making a complete asshole out of myself, she looked at me and asked me if there was anything I would like to share with the class.
I think she and the class got more than they bargained for, as I decided to be honest. Because as crazy as it sounds, a lot of the writing I have done around bowel cancer and colostomies has been in an effort to de-stigmatise something that has been surrounded by shame for too long. So, I felt like if I couldn’t be honest today, then I was just talking the talk, and not walking the walk. I was SO embarrassed that I basically had two choices, the first being leave the class and NEVER come back (I was leaning heavily towards that one), or just get it over and done with, so that I was less inclined to turn the whole thing into such a circus next time, as I feel sure there will be a next time. Gotta hate a quiet room. I came home and got straight into my cancer board and told them they wouldn’t BELIEVE what I had done, I had gone and told the whole class about my ostomy. To my great relief, I am not completely insane, and honesty is believed to be the best policy among our group. And maybe this is us, chipping away at the stigma bit by bit. I hope so, I have to believe some good came out of today, because this afternoon pretty much went down in history for me as ONE OF THE WORST EVER.
Here is a photo of a group of friends and I tonight at the Peninsula Hot Springs. We had a lovely night, and the chip packet behaved in an exemplory fashion, clearly deciding it’s work, for that day at least, was done.